Edit Content
Why Travel Ethiopia

History And Heritages

The region is rich in historical and archeological sites since it was the hub of an ancient  civilization. The ancient road is also home to four world heritage sites, including the only natural cultural places in the country , the Simien Mountains National Park.

Main attractions

Ethiopia’s holiest cities, Lalibela is famous for its rock-cut churches. The Capital city of the Kingdom of Aksum is one of the oldest inhabited places in Africa. Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile. The Royal Palaces of Gondar, and unique landscape and endemic fauna of Simien Mountains.


Gondar is a Royal and ancient historical city of Ethiopia. It is the home of many Emperors and Princess who lead the country from the 12th century to the last decade of the 20th century. To mention just a few, Emperor Suseneos, Emperor Fasiledes, Empress Mentwab, Iyasu I, Tewodros II, Empress Taitu. It is the home of the highest mountain in Ethiopia, Ras Dashen, and the Simien Mountains National Park.
It is easy to imagine the intrigue and pageantry that took place back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Gondar, then the Ethiopian capital, was home to a number of emperors and warlords, courtiers and kings. One only has to stroll through the banqueting halls and gaze down from the balconies of the many castles and palaces here to drift back into a long-ago world of battles and court conspiracies.
Nestled in the foothills of the Simien Mountains in north¬western Ethiopia, Gondar became the capital during the reign of Emperor Fasilidas (1632-1667), who built the first of a number of castle-like palaces to be found here.
Gondar Castle, dubbed the Ethiopian Camelot, is not a single castle, but instead is the name given to the entire complex of castles and palaces in the area. The oldest and most impressive of Gondar’s imperial structures is the two-storied palace of Emperor Fasilidas, built of roughly hewn brown basalt stones held together with mortar. Said to have been the work of an Indian architect, the building-has a flat roof, a rectangular tower in the south-west corner — which affords a distant view of Lake Tana and four smaller domed towers.
Gondar was the site of numerous fine churches, a number of which have survived to this day. Perhaps the finest of the Gondarine churches is that of Debre Birhan Selassie or ‘Light of the Trinity’, which stands on raised ground about a half an hour’s walk to the north-east. An imposing rectangular structure, its ceilings are decorated with beautiful winged angels and its walls with impressive scenes depicting biblical events, including the lives of Christ, Mary, the saints and the martyrs.


Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest places, dating back to the 12th century. Lalibela town, formerly known as Roha, named after one of the then Ethiopian rulers, King Lalibela (1181-1221), a member of the Zagwe dynasty. Lalibela is known by the amazing eleven churches hewn from solid rock. Built in the twelfth century, they are still standing in excellent condition. Most consider them as the eighth wonder of the world, and is one of the world heritage sites listed by UNESCO.
The churches are carved from soft volcanic rock, some cut into the face of a cliff, while others are isolated structures in deeply carved pits with long access passages or trenches. The earliest carved monuments may not have been churches, but in the 10th and 11th centuries AD sophisticated churches of diverse styles were created, with architectural features that scholars believe originated in ancient Aksum, which flourished up to 800 years previously. The finest examples are three-aisle or five-aisle basilicas, carved inside and out, with window openings as well as detailed geometric ornamentation.
King Lalibela oversaw the final extension of the church complex. This may have been to create an Ethiopian place of pilgrimage as an alternative to Jerusalem, which had been captured early in King Lalibela’s reign by the Muslim Salah-ad-Din (known in the West as Saladin). This is reflected in local place names such as the “Church of Golgotha” (now containing the purported tomb of King Lalibela), “Yordanos” (Jordan) for the seasonal river that runs through the complex, and a nearby hill called “Debra Zeit” (meaning Mount of Olives).
The most famous of the churches at Lalibela is “Beta Giyorgis” (The House of Saint George). It is not part of an interconnected complex, but stands on its own on a plinth in a rectangular pit 11 metres deep, with a 30 metre long approach trench. It has blind lower windows, in an Aksumite style, with higher open windows central to each face when viewed from the outside.
Bet Abba Libanos
(Church of Abba Libanos) This rectangular church is in the eastern part of the complex, and is carved on all four sides, but is continuous with the rock above it. It is linked to a structure known as Bet Lehem.
Bet Gabriel and Rufael
(Church of Saints Gabriel and Raphael) This church is in the eastern part of the complex, and has a courtyard extending its north and south walls.
Bet Golgotha and Bet Mikael
(Church of Golgotha and Saint Mikael) The interconnected churches of Bet Golgotha and Bet Mika’el form the most mysterious complex in Lalibela. Its holiest shrine — the Selassie Chapel — is housed here, and, according to the whispers of the priests, perhaps even the tomb of King Lalibela himself. Some of the most beautiful processional crosses of Lalibela are here.
Bet Medhane Alem
(Church of the World Saviour) This church is in the northern part of the complex, and perhaps the oldest of the Lalibela churches. Bet Medhane Alem is the largest of all the Lalibela churches. Built like a Greek temple, it is unusual, being entirely surrounded by square columns, with a further forest of twenty-eight massive rectangular columns supporting the roof inside.
Bet Maryam
(Church of Mary) This rectangular church is the most ornate of the Lalibela churches and is surrounded by a trapezoidal courtyard.
Bet Danagel
(Church of the Virgins)This church is carved into the south wall of the courtyard of Bet Maryam. It is the most roughly hewn of the Lalibela churches.
Bet Giyorgis
(Church of Saint George) North of the Jordan River, but much further to the west, and somewhat isolated from the others, is the remarkable church of Bet Giyorgis, possibly the most elegant of all the Lalibela structures, located in the south-west of the village on a sloping rock terrace. In a deep pit with perpendicular walls, it can only be reached through a tunnel entered a distance away through a trench. Small round caves and chambers have been found in the courtyard walls — graves for devout pilgrims and monks. This famous church stands alone in the southwest. Dating to the early 13th century AD, it is the most recently built of the Lalibela churches.
Standing on a three-tiered platform, Bet Giyorgis is shaped like a Greek cross and has walls — with an alternation of projecting and recessing horizontal layers — reminiscent of Axumite architecture. The church also has an elaborately shaped doorway.
Sellassie Chapel
This is a small, rough, trapezoidal structure in the western part of the complex, related to the Bet Golgotha complex.
Bet Amanuel
(Church of Saint Emmanuel) This church is in the eastern part of the complex. It is linked to the courtyard of Bet Mekorios by a 35 metre long tunnel and has the most intricate external ornamentation. Bet Emanuel is perhaps the finest; its elaborate exterior is much praised by art historians. The structure contains a large hall with four pillars, and its irregularly placed windows arc Axumite in style, as are the walls. A spiral staircase leads up to an upper storey.
Chambers and cavities for sacred bees in the outer wall of the courtyard are a reminder of the bees that prophesied kingship to Lalibela. Some of the chambers, however, are the graves of monks and pilgrims who wanted to be buried in this ‘holy city’.
Bet Meskel
(Church of the Cross) This is a grotto church, partially carved out of the rock, and whose façade is level with the north wall of the courtyard of Bet Maryam.
Bet Merkorios
(Church of Saint Mercurios) This is a partial grotto church in the eastern part of the complex, with eight roughly hewn pillars in its façade.

Bahir Dar

Bahar Dar is a small town set on the south – eastern shore of Lake Tana, where local fishermen still use papyrus boats, and just 30 km from the spectacular Tissisat Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates “Smoking Water” an awe-inspiring sight as it plunges into the gorge below. The Blue Nile Falls consist of four separate streams that plunge up to 45m over a formation of solidified lava.
The remote islands and forested peninsulas of Lake Tana are home to some of Ethiopia’s most venerated monastic churches. The antiquity of these monasteries is difficult to ascertain, but most probably date to the thirteenth and fourteenth century, and some may be a lot older, with Tana Kirkos in particular likely to have started life as a Judaic temple in Aksumite times. The Lake Tana monasteries are generally of limited architectural interest, certainly by comparison to the rock-hewn churches of Tigrai or Lalibela, but some host superb examples of Ethiopia’s ecclesiastical art, and many also have treasuries filled with ancient books and other artefacts. The lake itself also plays host to plenty of birds, ranging from stately pelicans and herons to vociferous fish eagles and darting kingfishers.The colourful local market at Bahir Dar is renowned for its weavers and wood workers.


The legacy of the Queen of Sheba lies just below the shifting sands, and churches hewn out of sheer rock attracting wide-eyed tourists. The African nation’s historic route begins in the ancient city of Axum, which dates to about 100 B.C. This capital city was the first place in Ethiopia to adopt a new religion — Christianity. According to the Old Testament, The Queen of Sheba was born in Axum, but travelled to Israel to meet King Solomon. They had a son named Menelik, who later became the first emperor of Ethiopia. Menelik brought the original Arc of the Covenant back to Ethiopia from Israel. Today, the Arc, which once housed the Ten Commandments, remains well hidden in Axum. It is guarded by a select group of monks, whose sole commitment is to protect the sacred vessel. Axum is also known for its massive, towering sculpture s that are more than two thousand years old. Their significance is still under investigation by archaeologists.
All that remains now of Axum’s past glories are the huge granite stelae (pillars), some fallen and some still perpendicular. Made of single blocks of granite, the tallest stood over 33 metres high – the largest monolith in the world. The biggest now standing is 23 metres high.
The 16th century Church of St Mary of Zion is the holiest Christian sanctuary in Ethiopia, and Ethiopians believe that the church houses the Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets on which Moses wrote the Ten Commandments. Menelik is reputed to have brought it to Axum, along with 12,000 Jewish children. The Chapel is constantly guarded by monks.
The Grave of King Kaleb and the Grave of King Gabre, the reputed Bath and ruins of a palace attributed to the Queen of Sheba, and a Museum are other historical attractions in the town. The entrance stairs and floor plan of this palace are intact and it is estimated to have had over 50 rooms.


The Gheralta region of Tigray has more than 120 rock-hewn churches, each with its own unique ancient murals and relics. You don’t have to be a person of faith to be moved by the way a culture has preserved its history and heritage.
The rock churches in and around Gheralta, scattered unevenly are famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and old manuscripts, and others known for their magnificent view and difficult ascent. Such great churches as Abune Yemata (Guh), Mariam Korkor, Debretsion (Abune Abraham), Yohhanes Maequddi, Abune Gebre Mikael and Selassie Degum are in the very heart of Gheralta, making it the home of rock churches.
There’s nowhere on earth quite like Abuna Yemata Guh. Although less impressive architecturally than most, the church is spectacularly sited within a cliff face, halfway up a sheer rock pinnacle 4km west of Megab. The first 45 minutes of the climb is mildly challenging, with a couple of tricky sheer sections requiring toe hold action. The last two minutes require nerves of steel to make the final scramble and precarious ledge walk over a 200m drop.
This church or ‘church within a church’ has an exceptional brown-and-white, Aksumitestyle facade fronting its inner rock-hewn section. The bright, modern paintings at the front and its beautiful carved arch add an odd but interesting contrast. The 45-minute, one-way climb is strenuous but otherwise not difficult.
This impressive, cross-shaped church is known for its architectural features (cruciform pillars, arches and cupolas), fine 17th-century frescos and church treasures. It’s also one of the largest churches in the area. The path begins around 1km from the road just southeast of Megab and involves a fairly steep one-hour ascent. Maryam Korkor is easily combined with nearby Abuna Yemata Guh into an all-day trek from Megab.


The fortified historic town of Harar is located in the eastern part of the country on a plateau with deep gorges surrounded by deserts and savannah. The walls surrounding this sacred Muslim city were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. Harar Jugol, said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam, numbers 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines, but the townhouses with their exceptional interior design constitute the most spectacular part of Harar’s cultural heritage. The impact of African and Islamic traditions on the development of the town’s building types and urban layout make for its particular character and uniqueness. The walls surrounding this sacred city, considered “the fourth holy city” of Islam, were built between the 13th and 16th centuries and served as a protective barrier. There were five historic gates, which corresponded to the main roads to the town and also served to divide the city into five neighbourhoods, but this division is not functional anymore. The Harar gate, from where the main streets lead to the centre, is of recent construction. A long-standing tradition of feeding meat to spotted hyenas also evolved during the 1960s into an impressive night show for tourists. Legend has it that at dusk/nightfall wild hyenas roamed the streets of Harar scavenging and looking for food. The locals decided to befriend them and tried to tame them hoping to prevent the hyenas from attacking the inhabitants. The hyenas now turn up at dusk and are ready for a live show which they are the stars of. The hyenas, in their innocent lives, are unaware of how popular or cool their activity has become.


The Nejashi Mosque is one of the world’s earliest mosques, built in the sixth century by the companions of Prophet Mohammed, who – exiled from Arabia by the Qurayshi pagans – came to Ethiopia, where they found a welcome refuge. Ethiopia’s King Nejashi [for whom the mosque was named] was a benevolent king, who was credited for saving the Prophet’s companions from persecution when they arrived in his land. Located in the town of Wukro in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray State some 800 kilometers from Addis Ababa, The site also hosts the tombs of the 15 companions of Prophet Muhamamd, who introduced Islam to Ethiopia.